Current Release

Current Release
The Warrior's Viking Bride

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Focal v Viewpoint Character

Last evening, I briefly read Swain's Techniques of A Selling Writer and discovered a chapter on feelings and transmitting those feelings to the reader. It is one of the reasons why I do like going back over writing books. I know I have read the chapter before because some of the jokes irritated me. HOWEVER the substance of what he had to say was important. And for some reason this chapter resonated with me last night in a way it hadn't before.
The main way readers view events are how they affect the focal character. The focal character provides the emotional compass for the reader and the focal character is the character that draws a series of unrelated events together. In order to understand the events of the story, they need to be filtered through the emotional lens of a character. The character is the character that the reader identifies most with and there is generally just one in a story. The focal character does not have to be the viewpoint character, although it is easier if the majority of the POV is in his/her POV simply for identification purposes. Swain uses the example of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is the focal character while Dr Watson is the viewpoint character. Personally I would argue some of Watson's emotional colouring and compass does effect the way of the reader views the story, but that may just be me.
With my books (and the vast majority of romances), the main focal character is the heroine. The reader needs to be able to identify with the heroine and her struggle. It is her interpretation of events that is the driving factor in the story. The hero is her hero. In Taken, the main focal character is Annis with Haakon being the second focal character.
It is all about creating emotions and feelings. Events that happen can either be good or bad depending on the emotional justification. The raid on Lindisfarne is an event. It is the reaction of the characters to that event that colours the novel. Without the emotion and the emotional compass of the main characters, readers can not interpret the events. To put in McKee terms, the events apply the pressure that force characters to make choices. It is through those choices that the deep character is revealed. And as McKee points out -- readers are always looking for a character to identify with.
Anyway, I thought it interesting.


liz fenwick said...

Very interesting and I think I understand it :-)

Michelle Styles said...

Another way of looking it is that like the Ring in the Lord of the Rings wants to be found, the reader wants to identify with one character. Without the identification, the reader loses interest.

Nell said...

I always think in terms of empathy, you have to empathsise with a character so even if she makes a wrong assumption or does something that otherwise you would consider foolish you understand why she's acted that way and your sympathy remains with her.

Michelle Styles said...

Yes, Nell that's right. WIthout a character to empathise with the reader feels no connection to the story. And if the events are to have any meaning, the character the reader is mostlikely to empathise with should be the focal character. The reader needs to understand her emotional filter and her motivations.
It goes back to the theory that every man is the hero in his own story. Understand the motivations and you can see the heroism.
It is something most writers know insitinctively without really considering why and why it is important.

Ray-Anne said...

'The reader needs to be able to identify with the heroine and her struggle. It is her interpretation of events that is the driving factor in the story.'
Thank you that Michelle - I have had a light bulb moment with a plot event and how my heroine may see it through her eyes/emotional filter very differently.

Donna Alward said...

And you know as I was reading this I was thinking...and the only way to really do this is to know your characters so well that you are feeling what they are feeling and so then can articulate that so that the reader also "gets it". It is one of the reasons why I know that if I feel my characters deeply - if I cry when writing - I've probably done it. If I haven't I know I have to dig deeper.